11 Tips to Perfect Your Signature Chili Recipe

The perfect bowl of chili is different for every single person, and each cook undoubtedly has their own signature way of preparing it. If you're still honing your chili chops, here are some tried-and-true tricks to bring out your chosen flavors.

Culinarie Kit's Heckdust, Serious Foodie's Kentucky Bourbon Spice Rub, Graham and Fisks's Wine in a Can Red with a bowl of chili
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Chili Starting Secrets

Spices in spoons

1. Toast your spices

When using dried spices in a dish like chili, you'll want to give them a quick toast in a dry pan to bring out their flavors. A minute or so over medium heat should be sufficient.

2. Brown your non-bean proteins first

Whether you're using beef, chicken, turkey, bacon or even a meat substitute like Impossible, you'll want to get a nice even browning across the meat before adding liquid ingredients.

3. Don't forget the aromatics!

You'll want to gently sauté your onions, garlic, and other aromatics (ginger, anyone?!) until they're extremely fragrant before adding any liquid ingredients. If you're using meat, you can cook the aromatics at the same time.

It's All About the Beans (Unless You're From Texas)

Chili beans and a chili pepper

4. Canned beans are okay!

Choose a large, sturdy variety like kidney beans, and make sure to drain and rinse them thoroughly before adding to the pot.

5. ...but dried beans are better!

If you're working with dried beans, your options for variety are limitless. Make sure to give the beans a true overnight soak—at least eight hours—before using them in a chili.

Fine Tune Your Flavors

Culinarie Kit chili in a a ramekin

6. Heat is king. Clearly.

Opt for fresh or dried chilies over ground whenever you can. If you're using ground spices, make sure they haven't been sitting around your pantry for the last decade; ground spices lose a lot of their flavor within a few months of opening them.

7. Balance the heat with sweet.

A little sucrose goes a long way in a hot bowl of chili. Use bell peppers, diced sweet potatoes, fruit juice, or even a spoonful of brown sugar to sweeten up that spice.

8. Focus on the umami.

Umami is easy for meat eaters, but vegans and vegetarians will want to pay special attention to this one. Use vegan Worcestershire sauce (like this tasty one featured in our Vegan Kit), soy sauce, liquid aminos, or minced mushrooms to bring some umami to the table.

9. Don't forget the acid!

An acidic ingredient will act like a magnifying glass for all the other flavors in your chili. Lemon juice, vinegar, or wine should be added at the very end of cooking. Add one tablespoon at a time and taste between additions to get the balance just right.

10. Booze it up

A shot of liquor can go a long way towards creating complexity and awakening the other flavors in your chili. Whiskey, wine, tequila, or beer each lend their own unique vibe to a pot of chili.

Remember that Good Chili Takes Time

Chili cooking in a pot

11. Cook it low and slow.

You can use a crockpot, a campfire cauldron, or the stovetop, but for all cooking methods there is one rule: keep your chili just barely simmering while it cooks. Allow ample time for the flavors to marinate and meld together. When you think it's done, that means it's time to leave it on just a little longer!

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